Having completed a large number of industry-leading AV solutions projects for some of the worlds most recognised brands, MediaZest’s CEO Geoff Robertson shares his insights on the latest trends in the industry.

Geoff is passionate about the intelligent use of digital technology to improve the retail experience. His audio-visual retail experience encompasses major projects for the likes of Hyundai, HP, Coca Cola, Samsung, Adidas, and Opel, and he’s responsible for the whole MediaZest group, leading both the sales team and client engagement.

Q: Which AV trend are you most excited about?

Geoff: I see two new trends in the retail AV industry at the moment. One is large scale LED display technologies that offer better brightness and more size flexibility than normal screens. This is very interesting in terms of seeing how the next couple of years are shaping up and we are already seeing it in widespread use across the retail sector. The other one which I think is potentially really exciting is VR and AR, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, and how we incorporate them in the retail space of the future. Augmented Reality is probably easier; but Virtual Reality, because it’s a one-to-one medium (you put on goggles or glasses), can be pretty tricky. It will be very interesting to see how that develops. There are examples coming out already which are quite useful for the customer. For example, you can download an app that shows the way your home is going to look if you buy a certain piece of furniture or you can sit in a virtual car to explore its interior. I think this evolution is going to be very interesting.

Q: Which sector do you think is leading the way in helping define the future of AV solutions?

Geoff: In terms of retail, one of the predominant areas for AV solutions is fashion. I think there are some obvious reasons for that: they have a lot of high-quality content, a lot of stunning images of clothes and models in those clothes; so it makes sense for them to go from static print, from a poster, to a digital version of it. You can also add a lot to that, in terms of adapting to the time of day, changing images, advertising sale items, and so on. That market will continue to grow. If you go to an Oxford Street or shopping centre, it’s full of stores using AV in this way whereas 3 or 4 years ago it was much less prevalent.

One of the industries where we are currently doing a lot and which I think is very much ripe for change is the automotive industry. The standard model of how we buy cars and how we go about all our transportation needs is definitely changing, and digital technologies will have a big role to play in that. We are getting a lot of success and seeing terrific innovation with brands like with Rockar, Hyundai, Opel, Mitsubishi and Ford. In this case of the latter, Ford has partnered with Next to deliver a Ford in-store experience in Next’s Arndale Centre store in central Manchester. Hopefully that will prove to be hugely beneficial to both brands. This is definitely an industry where we are going to see a lot of growth. I think that a lot of what comes out of that will start to creep into general retail.

Q: What about AV solutions outside of retail?

Geoff: I would say the main one is the corporate – workspaces, how they change, how working habits change, and how this will affect the future. We are sitting in WeWork now, which is a pretty interesting world in itself. Every room has a screen, there’s a lot of signposting pushing the different companies that sit here, pushing events and that community feel. One reason for this is very practical: let’s have a meeting room that people can really use, for whatever purpose they want. Then there’s the community spirit, and they foster that using the digital. And they do it really well actually. There are a lot of things about connectivity as well. A lot of companies are going for smaller spaces or hotdesking and are using technology to manage that – it is quite an interesting area we’ve been working in. Another element is the collaborative aspect of it – using technology to get people to work more collaboratively and even remotely. We are doing increasingly more work all over Europe and all over the world, we’re often having calls with clients and teams in different countries. Having meeting rooms with equipment that can help us achieve that makes for a really easy conversation when being able to relate to people on the other side of the call is what’s really important.

Q: Over the past 10 years, what’s the biggest change you have seen in the industry?

Geoff: I think when we started, 13-14 years ago, a lot of retail was campaign-based. So a lot of the digital work was based around, for example, a client with a new phone launch. A lot of it was temporary and lot of it was visual merchandising, really. I think that the biggest change is now using AV to provide the tools that work to help provide the customer experience. When I walk into a store, how does your brand’s technology support the buying journey or improve the experience for the customer? For example, I can have someone help me choose the product best suited to me, or I can self-serve. I can look for myself and, if I want help, there’s someone there. All whilst being able to physically touch the products. It’s taking the good bits of the internet (you can just go at your own pace, if you wish) and combine them with the traditional in-store experience. You can go to a manufacturer and buy a car yourself without talking to anyone, or you can talk to somebody who has product expertise. And if you want you can drive the car. You have the benefits of both worlds. AV solutions have become much more intrinsic to the customer journey.

Q: What has surprised you the most of what’s happening in the AV solutions sector?

Geoff: Making some of the biggest programs and ideas happen is much more complicated than we ever originally thought. It seems to be difficult for retailers to take successful work in their flagship stores and roll it out. If you’ve got 400 stores and you want to put consistent audio-visual message and tools across all of them, there are quite a lot of stakeholders and internal approval necessary; and then there are external stakeholders, you have to take customers onboard, make sure everything has been tested and works, and then roll it out. There are a lot of brilliant flagship stores, really fantastic in all sorts of different sectors, that are just fabulous case studies that people can see – but they are not executed around the whole country. A lot of stores don’t have the flagship elements. And, you know, you would think budget would be the real tough bit, but I don’t think that it is. It’s part of it, of course (you need to have the budget to be able to do it), but the problem just seems to be actually taking the concept and making it work in every location.

Q: That’s interesting. What do you think could be done?

Geoff: Well, if you could tell me, that would be great! [laughs]. When it comes to the budget side of it, you could scale up and down solutions, change screen sizes, change how often you look after them or swap content – there are lots of different levers you can pull to adjust costs, so that’s relatively easy to do. Maybe it is getting the Board’s buy-in? Is it approving the ROI? One thing that we need to do better as an industry is having better data telling us what the impact of these installations is in the stores. And we do try and measure whenever we can, but that’s sometimes difficult to tell. For example, if I’m walking to a store that has digital screens, does that make me more likely to go into the store and buy or not? Sure, we have all sorts of tools, like face detection and face recognition; we can track touch screen journeys, see how many people are using it; we can track how many people are in the store and then work out how many people are using the technology and devise success criteria, but it’s still not easy. So maybe that’s part of it. Getting the ROI measurements right. That enables us to show stakeholders the benefit.

Q: Where do you see the future of AV solutions? 

Geoff: I think it’s all becoming more and more convergent, more and more connected. Everything talks to each other. The word we often hear and use is “seamless”, whether it’s in a corporate environment or in retail. And that means consistency – being able to say, the customer looks at my website, goes into my store, and has the same feeling and experience, the same expectations about the brand. All solutions need to be joined up. How does the customer’s journey relate to the store and sales once we put the technology and audio-visual systems in? How do we make sure that the systems impact the end of bottom line – i.e., the customer buys more, either in the store or at a later date? That means, they either get a good experience and come in again, walk out with something in their hands that day, or buy at home online. But we need to be able to pull all of that together instead of putting the screens in isolation. As we were saying, it’s very difficult to justify spending money on a system if you can’t identify the benefits that it gives you. Whereas if you can say, “okay, we can pinpoint that these stores with this customer experience using AV solutions improve their experience and their feelings about the brand and help sell more products” – well, then that’s fantastic. That’s what we’re trying to get to.